Senate Chaplain Barry Black made headlines earlier this month when he brought down the house at the National Prayer Breakfast with a powerful keynote about prayer. So, Faithwire decided to catch up with the faith leader to learn more about his perspective.
Black, a retired rear admiral who has served as the 62nd chaplain of the U.S. Senate since 2003, described his role in detail, noting that the congressional chaplaincy was first established in 1789, with the tradition continuing since that time.
With that in mind, Faithwire asked Black how he responds to claims some might make that a salaried Senate position (the House of Representatives also has a chaplain) violates the concept of the separation of church and state — and he explained.
“At the Constitutional Convention in 1787 they reached an impasse. Benjamin Franklin stood and said, ‘Gentleman, I’m a very old man, but I have lived long enough to know that if a sparrow cannot fall without God knowing it, then a republic cannot rise without his assistance,'” Black recounted, noting that Franklin suggested prayers be invoked. “One of the first acts of the new legislative branch in 1789 … was to establish a chaplaincy. It actually pre-dates the establishment clause to the First Amendment.”
Listen to Black explain this fascinating history below:
Black, who recently released a new book titled, “Nothing to Fear: Principles and Prayers to Help You Thrive in a Threatening World,” noted that the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution. That said, he defended the idea that “we need a separation” between church and government, also calling for people to be accepting of others.
Still, Black said it’s essential to allow “an ability to have contact with the transcendent.”
“The reality is that they knew we needed supernatural guidance, that righeteous is a national security issue … and so they wanted a separation, because they didn’t want an official state religion, governmental religion,” he said of the founders. “But they wanted God in government as well, and so on the day that the establishment clause was written, a chaplain prayed … and prayer has continued almost uninterrupted since that time.”
Black also discussed his day-to-day chaplain duties, which are actually quite diverse.
“I don’t think there’s really a typical day, because you’re like a pastor who is tending a flock of 7,000 people,” Black said, noting that he is there to serve the 100 senators, their family members and scores of staffers.
The chaplain continued, “I do Bible studies five days week, I do spiritual mentoring classes, I do … hospital visitation … I officiate at funerals and memorial services and weddings.”
Without a doubt, serving as the U.S. Senate chaplain is no east feat. And in addition to diverse duties, there’s also the perception that it’s quite difficult to navigate the partisan divide, especially as Black works with the faithful on both sides of the aisle.
But the chaplain said he’s well-equipped to handle that dynamic, saying he believes God prepares people “for the doors that he opens,” citing Daniel 1:17 to note that Daniel was given many abilities by God, including the ability to interpret dreams.
Watch Black’s Prayer Breakfast speech below:
Black said he enjoys his “fascinating front-row seat to history” and said that people might also be surprised to know that, despite the public perception of the divide in Washington, many Democrats and Republicans are actually friends behind closed doors.
“The two parties who have different presuppositions regarding how government best serves the people and they’re passionate patriots,” he said. “They gather together at a prayer breakfast, 20 or 30 of them each week … they are passionate believers and patriots, but when they get in the chamber and they’re debating, they make their case like a competent attorney would do.”
He continued, “They’re pretty much friends. They have lunch together, they have dinner together. It’s not nearly as cynical an environment and difficult an environment as a lot of people think.”
Find out more about Black’s new book, “Nothing to Fear: Principles and Prayers to Help You Thrive in a Threatening World.”
Other Must-Read Stories: